One of the most frequent comments spouted by critics of electric vehicles is, “the electricity they use is produced by fossil fuels, so actually they’re more polluting than petrol or diesel vehicles.” The long tailpipe theory, repeatedly trashed by science, is still the fallback argument for the ill-informed.
Where does it come from? The two main sources of air pollution are vehicles with diesel or gasoline engines and electricity generated by coal or diesel oil. Since many countries still generate electricity in this way, the argument goes that electric vehicles are simply transferring the pollution from our exhaust pipe to the chimney of a power station.
Is that true? No. The first reason is obvious: not all electricity is produced by coal and diesel power plants. More and more countries are using sustainable generation such as hydroelectric, wind, solar or other renewables, while at the same time, we are seeing an increase in distributed generation infrastructures such as solar panels in homes. Therefore, even if all we were doing was transferring pollution from one point to another, in the vast majority of countries a certain part of that electricity would come from clean sources. In fossil fuel vehicles, this is not the case: everything it produces comes from where it comes from.
In short, the long tailpipe theory is a myth used by those who, for whatever reason, oppose change. It joins other myths, such as the supposed difficulties involved in recycling batteries or generating the electricity required to charge electric vehicles. Little wonder that those in the oil and car industries, who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo trot out these shibboleths, but there is no excuse for anybody else. Instead, let’s get the full facts and bear them in mind when deciding our transport options.